Your apps could be collecting precise details on where you are, all day long.
A recent study shows the average smartphone users' location data was tracked more than three thousand times in one week. That's more than 400 times per day.
Sujai Hajela's company Mist developed new location data-gathering technology to track users through hotels, museums and even shopping malls.
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"If you want to engage digitally, you leave a digital footprint," Hajela said.
Using Mist's invisible Wi-Fi and Bluetooth sensors, a retailer can access your phone to send you coupons the minute you walk in the door. A museum might push facts about a piece of art.
"We're literally making that device your personal virtual concierge," Hajela said.
Mist gives companies valuable data too: Analyzing customer traffic patterns to pinpoint the busiest areas so retailers know where to place pricey products.
"If you've not installed that app on the phone then there's no way you can actually even experience that personalized experience we're talking about," Hajela said.
But what about when I get messages on my phone without asking — like the one I get every night, telling me how long it'll take to drive home from work? Turns out, without even realizing, I've given an app permission to snoop on my travel history
"You might be surprised at how many apps you granted location," said Jules Polonsetsky of the Future of Privacy Foundation.
Polonetsky is one of thousands of privacy professionals who gathered at a recent global summit. He says when you download an app and say "yes" to a location request, that app can sell the information to third parties that pay big money to send targeted ads your way.
"If there's an appropriate message, they offer everybody who's been at a bar at midnight downtown a cheap taxi ride home, well that's kind of cool," Polonetsky said. "If it's we know you were at a doctor's office or at a strip club, or at a casino, or any place where you may be somewhat sensitive about where you are, the idea that that will be used to try to target you later on certainly can be creepy and more than offensive."
So how can you keep your whereabouts more private? When you install an app and it asks permission to access your location data, only say "yes" if it's an app that needs that information to function.
Switch off your phone's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth whenever you're not using them. You can also disable your apps' location tracking functions even if you already approved them.
Here are the steps:
- Open the Settings App.
- Scroll down to Privacy, and select Location Services.
- Disable all Location Services by swiping the slider at the top, or scroll down to disable location services for specific apps, including Google and Google Maps.
- Select System Services to deny location data from specific features, like location-based advertisements, turn off Frequent Locations, or disable the "Popular Near Me" feature.
- Open the App Drawer and go to Settings.
- Scroll down and tap Location.
- Scroll down and tap Google Location Settings.
- Tap Location Reporting and Location History, and switch the slider to off for each one.
- To delete your phone's location cache, tap "Delete Location History" at the bottom of the screen under Location History.
- Repeat this process for each Google Account you have on your Android device.